After a couple of years of a bit of a lull, SUPER FIGHT LEAGUE made a comeback to primetime TV last month and has caused a stir in the Indian MMA community with their newly rolled out format. SFL, now is a point-based league system which sees fighters divided into teams that represent different parts of India (a la the Indian Premier League in cricket).
The new format has been a talking point within the MMA circles for some time now. Amidst a very busy schedule, co-founder and CEO of Super Fight League Bill Dosanjh talked to The Fan Garage, in an exclusive interview, about all things MMA and the league. Bill addressed various topics including the motive behind the points system, the plans that SFL has for future, the criticism that has been coming it’s way and much more. In the first part of the interview, he talks about wanting to host the first MMA world cup. You can read the highlights below
TFG: There was a recent research about the Super Fight League that has been around for a number of years but it was just late last year that the brand was repositioned as a combat sport league. Along with being the first of its kind, what were some of the thoughts that went behind this move as such?
Bill: Any sport to grow, you need to have the core fundamentals for the sport to grow. And I'm going to take you back a little bit, how it came to vision and how it all started and how we came about and making this a success. It was back in 2010 when I launched Amir Khan's crew in the US where we saw that Boxing and MMA was kind of demanding the viewership.
We saw that, what is the core, why is it growing fast while boxing has been around for centuries and we when we really looked in to the core of it, we saw that every high school in America offers wrestling, so it's kind of built into the USA ecosystem where a boxer has to step outside of a school and find a boxing gym and here wrestling is offered on campus. This could work really well in India because India's grassroots level school for cricket is actually khushti. Every village has a khara in it. So this has the core fundamentals for the sport to grow.
We launched it in a short period and became the second most watched sport online in India today. Since 2012 till today, in terms of YouTube numbers, we're the second most watched sport and lot to do with it is that 60% of the population in India is under 25 and this product really connects with the youth.
Then you got to look at what realm do we fall into today, we have 11 sport leagues in the last 9 years and SFL sits in that bracket of WWE, Pro Kabaddi and other wrestling leagues. I think we have a much greater, more action experience for the youth to connect with MMA and then you got to look at the biggest movie of the year was based on exactly on what I've been saying to people, the core fundamentals of the sport which is wrestling and then modern era of the sport where it ends up in the cage.
Then for any company to run obviously one of the biggest MMA companies got sold for 4 billion dollars and that was roughly the same week that Sultan was actually announced. Sultan came out on 5th and then the big MMA Company announced an acquisition of 4 billion a week later and then you know for any company or entrepreneur, you want to be No.1. I wanted to do it and I sat back even before the pronouncement and said, "How can I do something different to become No.1 and then from there obviously we came up with the unique point scoring system.
How do i position it with every league having point scoring. Baseball has point scoring, basketball has point scoring. How do I adapt a point scoring system into this sport? So then obviously we came up with a very unique point scoring system where we said there are going to be 6 weight categories. Each weight category will have one backup fighter, for a draw you get a point, if you go to the judges, you get 2 points, 4 points for a T.K.O., 5 points for a submission and 6 points for a K.O. You need to look at the point scoring coz so much science has gone into it because in our country we're already used to so many 4's and so many 6's.
So when a fan is watching they can easily adapt to this point scoring system. So that's the beautiful thing about what we're doing. It's never been done before with teams and points where you fight as a team and with a point scoring system like any. So the positioning of the brand is clear. We're the first ever fighting league.
This is the first ever league where you fight as a team. Your fans are your biggest value. How do you connect with your fans? So that's when you come up with this very unique thing where you connect a gym with a team. So the fitness industry is worth 7000 crores growing 30% a year. And I said, “You know what, We need to deliver a revenue model all year round to our franchise and we need to have a development program where we nurture new talent.
And how do the fans also connect. The TV broadcast, they spend lot of energy and money in building a sports property but we as a fight league, we monetise to the highest effect. So here now, going back to what I said earlier, your fans are your biggest value.
How do you give them that connect? So here what we said was that each team will own a gym and it will the home base of that team where you or the fans can walk into any major city of a team where you're watching for example the Sher-E-Punjab team fight at the gym in Chandigarh. So each franchise has committed to five gyms over the next five years where you can become a fan of the team and walk into the gym and use the facilities.
I'm sure you are a fan of major other sports like football- Manchester United, Basketball- LA Lakers and Mumbai Indians in Cricket. Imagine you as a fan go to stadium and come back home. What interaction have you got as a fan the next day? You want to go back to the stadium, it's closed. You want to use the facilities the next day, you can't. You want to watch a star train, you cannot. You want private coaching, you cannot.
So here the ecosystem is going to be built so all the fighters that you see fighting in the SFL, they will be coaches in the gym and there will be videos playing of these guys of their fights and as a fan, I can walk in there and click with them, hang with them. This is a very unique thing. We've got 100 forecast of gyms in the next 5 years. There are a lot of fighters who own gyms like Irfaan does where he trains some people.
He's converting each gym into a SFL gym. He has 3 gyms in Delhi and even Babuljeet has a gym in Shillong in NorthEast. SFL already has a gym in Guwahati. So these will all alongside our 100 forecast SFL gyms over the next 5 years. This is a great program. The franchisees are happy because they're getting revenue every day from memberships. Joey garden gym in Delhi, we have over 1200 members in the space of one year which is phenomenal. That’s the gym element of it.
And the other big revenue driver in the third year is digital revenue. Just to give you some numbers, we had done a Facebook live on the opening when Haryana Sultans played Delhi. Arjun Rampal. Between them they've got over 7 million followers. We got over 200000 views live. That’s not including what's on TV.
That's just Facebook and that just shows you where this is going.
We've got to another big announcement coming for Gujarat and Punjab. So I'm an NRI and there are 50 millions of us who live outside India and who are very proud of where we're from. I'm saying a Punjabi in Canada will pay 5 dollars to watch his Punjab team fight. Imagine there are 100000 people. That's half a million of income coming in from all across the world because it's an international product. It's only relevant in commonwealth countries. This sport is global. Wherever you look right now, you could be seeing people playing cricket or football outside but if you see a quick fight break out, you'll see 100 people gather around to see a good fight. So it's in our human nature to love to see two people competing in a ring.
So that's quickly in a nutshell basically the vision and that whole thing is to host the first World cup of MMA SFL from now. It's going to the US, UK. And for the next year, we've got plans for Brazil, Philippines and really capture China as well. And what's going to work in China is a localized product. The way we localized it in India; You'll see Ajay Devgn, local guy from Mumbai, you'll see Arjun Rampal who grew up in Delhi. These are the localities and Jacqueline just loves fitness, loves woman empowerment. Through our gym program, we're going to be offering self defence to the women who can come in and take free classes. There's a whole ecosystem that's being built. Look at the brands that have come on board.
From Dabur, Hero Cycles, V John, Intex. These guys are really invested in the vision. All these young entrepreneurs have studied abroad and they understand the powerfulness of this sport. How big this is and how big this can be. We're the 2nd most watched sport online today already and that's only going to grow because the way the digital space is going to move in the next 5-6 years is going to be phenomenal. We've seen the crazy change in social media in the last 6-7 years and data is become so cheap to consume. We're proud that we're born digital and we're going to stay digital which is going to keep growing and making the sport grow.
TFG: So what went into the philosophy behind the point scoring system and what actually constitutes the five point scoring system for the uninitiated among us?
Bill: The thing with the point scoring system is, normally in fight sports it's always win, draw or loss. It's the outcome of each round. So we wanted to make it more interesting and the other big problem is that everyone is looking forward to the main event. No one cares about the undercard fights and until the 8th bout, the place is empty. People are only looking forward for the main event. Here the first fight is just as important as the last fight. The women's win, her points are just as important as a man's win. So the point scoring system is that you have to be involved into this from the very first moment. Just how you tune into a soccer game or you tune into a cricket or any other sports league. You have to tune into this from the very first moment not just wait for the main event because points early are just as important as points at the end and then it's about changing the sport and really commercializing it where it's not just about the promoter.
There are only a handful of dozen companies that are really pushing the sport of MMA across Asia and across the globe. So what SFL has done is to create this ecosystem around to give it that positioning of sports league. But when you give it the positioning of a sports league, you need to have sports league elements to it and the point scoring system is very important. That's where again after establishing the points, what type of points we chose and how we score it and we're seeing it at full effect.
Every event of an opening night on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or when it was on the 20th, 21st, 22nd. Everything went to the wire. You saw a mix of going to judges, mix of T.K.O. and you saw a mix of submissions and you saw some great sixes. That's what went into this positioning of brand of a major sport league. We wanna host the first world cup. Imagine Brazil vs. USA in the cage with this unique point scoring system with all weight categories. It'll be fireworks.
Tune in for the next part of our interview with Bill Dosanjh where he talks about the criticism that the SFL match making is getting, plans for a new show and much more.